Every child should be able to grow up doing kid things. Riding bikes with friends, laughing at the school lunch table, doing the "floss" non-stop. But not all kids are so lucky.
There is nothing more awful than the physical or sexual abuse of an innocent child. The CRICKET Center in Worcester County, Maryland, is a child advocacy center that supports the victims of such abuse and their family members. The organization is a collaboration of law enforcement, child protective services, advocates, prosecutors, and medical and mental health professionals. Their efforts can truly be a bright spot in what is a really dark place for these young victims and their loved ones.
Wendy Myers is the Executive Director of the Center, and she thought a "facility dog" from Canine Companions for Independence would be a great tool for the children and families that need help.
And that’s where Josiah comes in.
Josiah is a Canine Companions facility dog who was matched to the CRICKET Center in May 2018, and he's already having a significant impact on their work with children.
Wendy shared a number of harrowing stories with me. One was about a 5-year-old girl who is a victim of sexual abuse. The CRICKET Center team and Josiah were at the courthouse with her as she had to testify. She became physically sick in fear that she would see her abuser. It was a terrifying day on top of an already-terrifying ordeal. But when she saw Josiah, she sat on the floor with him and was able to calm down. And she eventually fell asleep, curled up next to Josiah.
She also told me about an older foster child with scars on her wrists where she had been cutting, and who was having a very bad day. Cue Josiah, who had previously learned a special command: “snuggle.” When prompted, he lied down with this older foster child on the floor and snuggled, with his chin on her lap. Josiah knew just what he needed; she was visibly soothed and talked to him about her future and how she loves animals. Now, she wants to spend more time with Josiah.
Josiah has learned another very special command: “tissue.” He'll delicately pick up tissues from a box and bring it to the child or parent needing support. And he’s learned to do this without tearing or damaging the tissue.
Wendy described how challenging it can be to work at The CRICKET Center. Many workers experience secondary trauma from constantly hearing and experiencing these children’s stories. Josiah makes a difference for the staff as well, providing love and comfort when they need a break from the sadness and anger that can sometimes be overwhelming.
“It is difficult to imagine what it is like for a child to tell adults about such a traumatic event," Wendy says. "Josiah becomes the light in a dark time. He becomes part of their story. The primary purpose of child advocacy centers is to lessen the trauma of abuse for victims. Josiah gives children a soft, warm place to land.”
Often the children wish to take Josiah home with them, though, of course, Josiah needs to stay at the organization to help where he's needed most.
But there's good news: A local civic group donated money to the CRICKET Center so they could make mini stuffed Josiahs, so that each child and family can take one home. Parents have even sent Wendy pictures of their children snuggled with their stuffed Josiah.
The CRICKET Center is forever grateful to the CCI puppy raisers, trainers and administration for providing such a valuable addition to their staff.
Being a CCI puppy-raiser myself, I’m constantly asked, “How will you be able to give up Spike?” Well, when I hear Wendy’s stories about how Josiah has helped so many children, I can only respond with another question: How can I NOT give him up?
Visit CCI.org to learn more about Canine Companions for Independence.